Gorillaz: Reject False Icons review – an off-the-wall and electric insight into the band

The most successful animated band of all time, Gorillaz have come a long way from feeling like Damon Albarn’s post-Blur search for relevance. The acclaimed band has become a staggeringly diverse creative entity, blending genres from rock to hip hop, soul to electronic, jazz to acoustic, resulting in some truly outstanding work. Reject False Icons, the second major documentary about the band following 2008’s Bananaz, recognises that this diversity is a strength. Visually relentless, exciting and passionate, Denholm Hewlett’s film is one brimming with life that invites you into the band’s funny little world.

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There are two brief references to Donald Trump, someone that Albarn has absolutely no affection for. Although scarcely mentioned, it can be guessed that he is among the ‘false icons’ that the band are wanting their audience to reject, the contrast between this and the open-armed diversity of the band feels very deliberate. The rowdiness of Albarn and his inner circle has not dissipated with age (in one shot a very hungover Albarn is escorted across a road the morning after a big party), but most of the film is shot in black and white, as if to recognise that such mannerisms and boyish adventures are increasingly a thing of the past. Smoking in the recording studios, in particular, feels very old school.

There are short but touching tributes to Bobby Womack and Ibrahim Ferrer, but this is not a film that dwells. Instead it looks ahead with vibrancy and flair. Covering the period over the band’s last two albums, the variation in both collaborators and genres results in something gloriously eclectic. And that’s just the recording sessions. When the band takes to the stage, Hewlett is let loose like a dog let off its lead. The lightning strikes of colour are mesmerising, with editing that runs at such a pace you’ll feel out of breath. The screen flips between snippets of music videos and live performance (or both at once) along with various other images somehow fitted in between. Several frames fill the screen at once with varying degrees of opacity. This furious pace captures the feverish and zany creative pulse that fuels the band, and if you came for a tribute to what makes Gorillaz great, you will not feel short changed.

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There is still time left amidst the melee for quick looks into the band’s mythology, something that has kept fans intrigued for almost two decades. Also clear is how the band have recently hit a new aesthetic pinnacle, down in no small part to original artist Jamie Hewlett (Denholm’s father), the one responsible for the band’s appearance. Yet on the whole, the film does not feel that self-indulgent, more willing to celebrate the work of others than toot their own pixelated horns. 

Inevitably, if you aren’t already a fan, you will still be impressed if not necessarily absorbed. But for those who have had Gorillaz’ music stay with them, this is a very special, meaningful treat. Reject False Icons makes its point through wild celebrations and beautiful noise, as Gorillaz play out their experimental swansong on the big screen. 

Gorillaz: Reject False Icons is out now.

James Hanton

James is a contributor to Outtake, Starburst Magazine and The Wee Review. He is also the former Editor-in-Chief of The Student, the oldest student newspaper in the UK. A recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, James is looking for paid writing gigs so he doesn't fall into the endless abyss of graduate unemployment. He can be contacted at: jhantonwriter@gmail.com